This all started because I’m wearing a mask at work. When your job is to work with dozens of Chinese students and their day is spent going to school with other Chinese students and one of the first domestic cases of the Wuhan CoronaVirus was confirmed in your city, you might be concerned about managing the risk of infection. The thing is, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have cared at all.
You see, in my teens and twenties (I resent needing to phrase it this way), I took every adventure available to me. If there was a cliff, I’d find a way to climb it and jump off it. If there was a distant land, I’d find a way to travel to it whether by train, plane or automobile. In Mama Liu’s Rav4, I drove half the distance to the moon (five times the circumference of the Earth), making my way to every state in the contiguous United States, staying in shady motels, camping out in the back of my car, or better yet, spending the night in a frosty bivouac sac. I got a handful of speeding tickets and a boatload of parking tickets. I drank all the coffee and ate all the slow-smoked barbecue I could find in this great country. I almost legally changed my name to make Danger my middle name. While I didn’t go on drug-induced benders or get into low-level violent crime, I lived my life as hard as I could, or as far as commitment to my faith afforded me (plus some extra-curricular, extra-biblical activity on top).
When people would question me, discourage me or otherwise rein me in, they used the threat of danger. “Don’t do that, that’s dangerous.” “Don’t eat that, you’ll get cancer.” “Don’t go there, it’s not safe.” My response was always the same; live longer? For what? Live longer? At what cost? In the words of the great George Strait “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.” I wasn’t looking to extend my time at the expense of how I spent it. Greasy food tastes better, driving fast is more fun, the road less traveled makes a better story.
At the bottom of all that, there was the fact that I didn’t want to live long, regardless. Like my sad existentialist heroes, I was weary. I was weary of life. The point wasn’t that I was willing to pay the price for a lifestyle that I wanted. The point was that I wanted a lifestyle that cost me more life. In other words, burning the candle at both ends wasn’t a means to an end, it was the goal. I was tired, and on a lot of days since those times, I’ve been tired.
Something always resonated with me in Ecclesiastes. From the moment I stumbled across it in my teens, it’s been my favorite part of scripture. Ecclesiastes echoes a meaninglessness that burrows deep into the marrow of your bones and saps joy from so much of life. There is a fleeting quality to this world that doesn’t make it ephemeral and beautiful, but cheap like a disposable napkin.
The one solace was that we have a chance to make a difference in something eternal. The one solace was that somewhere, there was a way to have a legacy.
We shine most brightly when we can reflect the good graces of God. We leave a mark by dipping our toes into the eternal. But even still, there is a longing for the other side of life. The apostle Paul says as much in his letter to the church in Philippi, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” He knows that the things of this world pale in comparison to just a sliver of the goodness of God. What we experience here is but a shadow of what is to come. He stays to possibly do some good. But in his heart, he longs for the other side of the veil.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t eat my vegetables.
Just kidding. I like vegetables, actually. But Paul encapsulates a big portion of my approach towards life and particularly my own safety. When I took the 16PF at Talbot, my three highest factors were High Threat Immunity, Thrill Seeking Behavior and Low Energy Depression. If you’ve known me for some amount of time, you look at those three phrases and you recognize all of it immediately in how I live. I never saw the need to shield myself from the dangers of this world. What’s the worst that could happen? My untimely demise? Perfect, I could use the rest. Let’s roll the dice.
If this all sounds awfully morbid, rest assured. I’m not embarking on drug-fueled benders or living my best hedonistic life. I spend my days in a two bedroom condo in one of the safest suburbs in the world. I go to and fro from my safe job in a sensible mid-size SUV with lots of airbags and even a dashcam. I lock my doors now. Take a snapshot of my life these past few years and I venture to guess that it’s largely indistinguishable from the safety-seeking people I pass on the freeway.
And today, I’m wearing a goofy facemask at work.
In 2002, When SARS broke out in eastern Asia and around the world, I was a teenager. Like any teenager convinced of his own immortality, SARS was a just punch-line and a means for taking self-deprecating racist pot-shots at my own people. My only responsibility on a day to day basis was reading Fitzgerald novels and getting Kennedy Fried Chicken from the corner of Fulton and Fort Greene. The closest thing I had to a bank account was a new paperback novel and a receipt from Barnes and Noble.
Now, in 2020, I’ve got a job, a mortgage, a wife (total babe) and most recently, a tiny baby to take care of. I can’t afford to joke around. I can’t afford to be cavalier about my own life because the outcome of other lives depends on it. If I get hurt, if I get hurt, it’s not me that pays the price, it’s these other two. And it’s a heavy weight to carry.
You know, I thought that I would resent this weight. All of the married characters in my writing resented their families for it. I thought I would be bogged down by the responsibility of caring for a family. I’d spend my days in a cubicle, rotting away under fluorescent lights instead of under the stars somewhere on the Appalachian Trail. But now, now that I’m on the other side, I think that I imagined it wrong.
No, I don’t love the suburbs. I don’t love the safety. I don’t love having a mortgage, and furniture and a life that I can’t pack up and leave on a moments notice. I love my family, and the other things are necessary costs to that end. I do enjoy a home, and I suspect that they do too. Instead of looking to speed through life, I’m trying to slow it down. I’m trying to stretch it out because my family doesn’t need a martyr, they need a father. They need a rock, an anchor, not a rolling stone.
I know I’m not always going to have to sacrifice things. When Shelby isn’t a tiny bitty baby, she will come along on adventures. She will sit in that center seat between me and her mom while we explore the world together. I’ll do dumb things to try to impress her. But even now, with my quiet day to day, I am at peace. I realize that what I do with these two ladies will be the greatest adventure I embark on, and how I do it will be my greatest legacy.
look at these two babes